mirror neurons

mirror neurons

Postby Louis Swaim » Sat Aug 10, 2013 5:02 pm

Greetings,

For a while I’ve been interested in the role that the brain’s mirror neurons play in learning a skill or art, appreciating a performance, or performing interactive movement with another person. Especially as a taijiquan enthusiast, I am struck by the way traditional taijiquan concepts such as 聽勁 (listening energy, or listening skill) and 舍己從人 (yield to the initiative of the other, or “give up yourself and comply with the other”) speak to the engagement of mirror neurons in skillful movement by means of what has been called “empathic projection” by cognitive scientists. This morning on NPR I heard about an interesting study involving the mirror neuron system that provides evidence that being a powerful person (or more accurately, I think, having the perception of power) can fundamentally impair a person’s ability to experience empathy.

Here's a link to the story: http://www.npr.org/2013/08/10/210686255 ... your-brain

Thoughts?

Take care,
Louis
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Re: mirror neurons

Postby extrajoseph » Sun Aug 11, 2013 8:09 pm

Hi Louis,

Another interesting and thoughtful topic from you, here is my two cents:

Chinese use the expression “感”而“通” to express when there is empathy, things will interpenetrate, that is why in we prefer “以静制动” and “以柔制剛” in Taijiquan, because quiescence and yieldingness can have a better chance to cultivate “感應” (mutual resonance), to “打通” (strike through) to our opponents. Movement and unyieldingness represent power and as the research you linked have showed, they tend to destroy empathy and we don’t get to know our opponent enough, and without knowing we will sure to lose.

知彼知己,百戰不殆;不知彼而知己,一勝一負;不知彼,不知己,每戰必敗.
“One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred battles. One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometime win, sometimes lose. One who knows neither the enemy nor himself will surely be defeated in every battle.”
("Sun Zi Bing Fa", 孫子兵法)
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Re: mirror neurons

Postby Audi » Sat Aug 17, 2013 4:51 pm

Greetings all,

Louis interesting article.

I think I have read before that one of the things that distinguishes humans from apes is the ability of humans to understand the motivations of others and to easily put ourselves in the shoes of others. I can imagine that in a group of apes, it is very important for low status (i.e., relatively powerless) individuals to understand the motivations of high status (i.e., relatively powerful) individuals around them to avoid being oppressed.

In Tai Chi, I understand that we are supposed to use the form to understand ourselves and our own movement, and then use that understanding to understand the movement of others in push hands. In my teaching, I try to talk a lot about my students' spirit and intention. To make clear that I am not talking about telepathy or even great skill, I try to explain that humans have a common understanding about a wide variety of behaviors. For instance, when we are preparing to pull on a rope-like object, we will all prepare our arms, bodies, and legs in a certain way that we all instinctively know. Thus, when you see someone do something different in Push Hands, you know their intent cannot be right. Another example is in pushing. Many people often do not seat their wrists enough when showing a pushing motion. Sometimes, when I see this, I ask them to push me strongly. Inevitably, they bend their fingers back out of the way as they unconsciously shift the Jin point.

I understand Ting Jin and Dong Jin through this lens of "empathy." You begin to know your opponent based on what you yourself would do in his or her place. It is when you cannot understand them that you are in trouble, cannot formulate an appropriate strategy and fall within the ambit of what EJ has quoted from Sunzi's Art of War.

This is also what I understand about some of the meaning of 虚灵 in 虚灵顶劲 that I tried to convey a few weeks ago and which matches the idea EJ posits about mutual resonance. If you approach a situation as if you are trying to impose your will upon it, you will have difficulty understanding what is going on.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: mirror neurons

Postby extrajoseph » Tue Aug 20, 2013 10:56 am

Hi Audi,

Great post, I have an additional note to make, it is not only trying to impose our will onto others that weakens the mutual resonance, but expectations of what others will do or should behave also prevents us from empathize with the other. That is not only in Taijiquan but in everyday life as well; when the expectation is not fulfilled, we often hear people say "you don't listen", there is no 聽勁.

EJ
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